FDA recalls and units decline to lowest level since Q1 2016

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Undeclared milk caused almost half of FDA undeclared allergen recalls. Picture: iStock
Undeclared milk caused almost half of FDA undeclared allergen recalls. Picture: iStock

Related tags Undeclared allergens Recall election Fda

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food recalls and units declined to the lowest levels since Q1 2016, according to Stericycle Expert Solutions.

Recalls declined 5% to 150 in Q4 2017 and recalled units fell 93% to seven million - lower than nine of the last 12 quarters.

Bacterial contamination and undeclared allergens continued to be the main causes.

Prepared foods (20%), nuts and seeds (16%), produce (15.3%) and baked goods (12%) were the most affected categories.

Recalls decline but don’t get complacent

A total of 54.7% of FDA recalls were due to undeclared allergens, almost identical to 54.1% in Q3 2017 and up from 37.1% in Q2.

Undeclared milk was the cause of 48.8% of FDA undeclared allergen recalls. Listeria was behind 79.3% of bacterial contamination notices.

Chris Harvey of Stericycle Expert Solutions said FDA recalls have declined every quarter since Q4 2016.

“That is good news for the industry. But it is important to remember that recalls tend to ebb and flow,”​ he told FoodQualityNews.

“All it takes is one supplier issue or one positive test to trigger a recall, so companies can’t be complacent. Regardless of whether these trends continue, preparedness is crucial. Food recalls can happen fast, and both regulators and the public expect them to be acted upon swiftly and effectively.”

FDA recall causes based on units were bacterial contamination (44.1%) and undeclared allergens (30.8%). Recalled units are the total number of individual products affected by a recall.

Prepared foods and supplements were the top two categories based on recalled units, accounting for a combined 72.2%.

Consumers look for convenience

Harvey said many shoppers are looking for convenience and there are a variety of prepared food options available to them.

“So, when you consider how many products fall under that category, it makes sense that it would be a top category in both recalls and recalled units. In addition, prepared foods are likely to have multiple ingredients coming from a variety of sources, which could increase the potential for a recall resulting from a supplier issue,” ​he said.

“As for supplements, while they weren’t a major category for recalls, there were four large recalls that pushed them into the top category based on units. However, each of the recalls was due to a different cause.”

There were 14 FDA recalls distributed internationally and 12 within the US. Only 9% of recalls were for products distributed nationwide - the lowest since 2013.

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recalls increased from 17% to 28% but this was still lower than four of the last five quarters.

In the final quarter, the volume of recalled pounds dropped 92% to 597,896 – the lowest since Q3 2013.

A total of 49.9% of USDA recalled pounds were due to lack of inspection, compared to 0.2% the previous quarter.

Stericycle said lack of inspection was not a major factor from Q1–Q3 2017 and was the least common cause in terms of USDA recalled pounds (just 2.5%) for all 2017 even with the jump in Q4.

Based on pounds, multiple product categories made up 63.1% of recalls, poultry 19.8% and beef 12.4%.

Five-year trends

Q4 2017 marked the five-year anniversary of the Recall Index.

The food and beverage industry experienced the most dramatic spike in units recalled over the past five years.

Food products recalled by the FDA rose 92.7% since 2012 and recalled pounds regulated by the USDA which oversees meat production jumped 83.4% in the same period.

Stericycle said technological improvements in food testing combined with factory farming and growing automation in production were major drivers of the increases.

Undeclared allergens and bacterial contamination such as Listeria were the most consistent culprits.

Approximately 28% of FDA food recalls were due to bacterial contamination in 2012 with that number jumping to 31.3% by year-end 2017.

Undeclared allergens were the top cause of recalled pounds by the USDA in 2012 (35.4%), increasing to 41.2% five years later.

Mike Good, VP of marketing and sales operations at Stericycle Expert Solutions, said consumers, manufacturers, regulators and lawmakers remain concern about product safety has not changed.

“What has changed is the public is paying more attention to the recall process and how effectively brands manage product recalls and notifications,” ​he said.

“The challenge now is overcoming the recall fatigue that occurs when consumers are faced with more – and larger – recalls. We created the Recall Index as a public service to help put recall trends in perspective so all stakeholders can make informed decisions grounded in facts.”

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